The 5 Best Reusable Paper Towel Alternatives to Save the Planet, One Swipe at a Time

The 5 Best Reusable Paper Towel Alternatives to Save the Planet, One Swipe at a Time

Swap out single-use for the best reusable paper towel alternatives to make a positive impact on the planet and your wallet.
The Ultimate Guide to Laundry Detergent Sheets: How and Why to Make the Switch Reading The 5 Best Reusable Paper Towel Alternatives to Save the Planet, One Swipe at a Time 8 minutes Next Embrace the Six 'R's for a Radiant Eco Kitchen this Spring

The US spends nearly as much on paper towels as every other country combined. Let’s unpack that.

Where other countries are opting for cloths, we’ve gotten into the habit of picking up paper. In other words, we’re spending our hard-earned dollars on something that can only be used once, rather than saving on something that can be used for years.

As well as impacting our budget, this hurts the environment. It means trees are constantly cut down to keep up with the demand, and after being tossed, paper towels sit in landfills emitting greenhouse gases and contributing to global warming.

A simple switch, such as putting a reusable alternative by the sink instead of your standard rolls, can have a huge impact. Read on to discover more about America’s strange paper towel obsession and the alternatives we offer for a cleaner way to clean up!  


What’s the problem with paper towels?

For many people, picking up a paper towel is an automatic response when something spills. If we step out of autopilot and look at the big picture, however, it’s easy to see why it’s a habit worth breaking.  

13 billion pounds of paper towels are used each year by Americans. To make ~2,000 pounds of paper towels, it takes 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water.

illustration of a huge pile of paper towels representing 2,000 pounds, and how many trees and how much water it takes to produce that amount

BUT if every family used 1 less roll of paper towels each year, it could save 544,000 trees and millions of dollars in landfill costs. 


Why make the switch to reusable paper towels?

There are many reasons to switch to reusable paper towel alternatives, that will save you money and waste, as well as being kinder to the planet.

Reusable paper towels can be used in the same way as their single-use counterparts, but since they’re made from materials that can be washed multiple times, you don’t have to constantly buy new ones.

They’re still made from natural materials but require fewer resources to make. That means you’re saving trees used to make the towels and the roll, the bleach/chlorine used to make the towels white, the plastic packing they’re wrapped in, and the fuel used to deliver them to your destination. 


Are reusable paper towels clean?

The purpose of paper towels is to clean up the mess you want nothing to do with, hence why they then get tossed straight in the trash. No wonder it’s a common concern whether reusable paper towels are as clean.

Washed correctly, we say they are! We’ve included some specific cleaning tips for each option below, but here are some general tips:

  • Check whether they can be washed in the washing machine or dishwasher.
  •  Boil water and submerge the towels for a couple of minutes.
  •  Let reusable towels dry between uses, or between storage. Wet towels become a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Microwave any of the towels for 30 seconds to kill bacteria between washes.


5 Reusable Paper Towel Alternatives To Try Today

Whether it’s scrubbing down a surface or wiping sticky fingers, here are our 5 top picks for reusable paper towel alternatives to replace paper rolls today.

1. ZWS Essentials Reusable Paper Towels

ZWS Essentials Reusable Paper Towels

These reusable towels by ZWS Essentials come pre-rolled in packs of 12 or 24 with fresh and fun designs. They can last years with proper care, and the naturally clingy material means the cloths stick together to be easily re-rolled in their cardboard tube.

Material: GOTS Certified Organic Cotton
Best for: Perfect for drying hands and cleaning messes. They become more absorbent with each wash!
How to clean: Machine wash on warm or cold with like colors and tumble dry low. They’re not pre-washed, so there might be minor shrinkage.
End of life: When these towels no longer work for your kitchen, consider turning them into rags. After that, they can be composted.
Price: $24.99 for 12 or $44.99 for 24
Review: Fantastic Paper Towel Substitute! I had been wanting to reduce waste by finding a paper towel replacement that didn’t require constant laundering. This is an excellent product that continues to give you the benefit of one-time use towels without the waste! – Rebekah

2. Full Circle Home Tidy Dish Cloths

Tidy Dish Cloths

Made from organic cotton and dyed with non-toxic dyes, these reusable paper towel alternatives are extra soft, long-lasting, and absorbent.

Material: Organic Cotton
Best for: Ideal for removing tough grime and grease, the cloths have embedded loops that make for maximum scrubbing power.
How to clean: Rins them after use and toss them in the washing machine.
End of life: When they’re no longer doing their job, either turn them into rags or compost them.
Price: $7.99 for 3
Review: I love these cloths. I keep a stack in a small basket by my sink to encourage household members to reach for these over paper towels. I think they improve with time and usage. - Carolyn

3. ZWS Essentials Zero Waste Sponge Cloths

ZWS Essentials Zero Waste Sponge Cloth- Swedish Dish Cloth, Paper Towel Replacement, Kitchen Sponge

Each one of these towels can hold up to 15X its own weight in liquid. We’re not joking. They can replace up to 17 rolls of paper towels and last for 6+ months, making them one of the most effective and economical alternatives.

Material: Cellulose (wood pulp)-cotton
Best for: wiping spills or cleaning counters. The cloth is naturally antibacterial due to its quick-drying, so don’t worry about the nasty ‘dishcloth’ smell!
How to clean: Machine wash and let air dry or place on the top rack of a dishwasher. Each cloth can be used for 200 wash cycles if taken care of properly.
End of life: Toss it in your compost bin.
Price: $5.99 for 1
Review: Very resistant and absorbent. After a while I washed in the laundry machine and came out fresh and clean and in 1 piece, ready to be used again. Totally recommended - Isa

4. Saged Home Reusable Disinfectant Wipes

Saged Home Saged Home Disinfectant Wipes - Set of 18

If you usually use paper towels with a disinfectant spray, this option is for you. This DIY kit shows you how to make your reusable cleaning product, using ingredients that can be purchased at your local bulk shop. The cloth wipes can be stored and used for all your cleaning needs.

Material: Cotton wipes, glass jar, plastic lid.
How to use: Follow the directions on the back of the jar, add your bulk ingredients to each line, and you’ve got yourself all-natural cleaning wipes, ideal for any surface. The kit does not include the solution or ingredients.
How to clean: wash in warm or cold water with like colors. Tumble dry or line dry.
End of life: repurpose the glass jar, or recycle the cloths, jar, and lid separately.
Price: $42.99 for 18
Review: I love these wipes so much! They clean almost every surface perfectly. I will never use disposable wipes again. I don’t know about anyone else, but making the wipes is quite fun. - FA

5. Upcycled Scraps

basketful of textiles

The most sustainable product is always the one you already own. Why not make your own set of reusable paper towel alternatives using what you have at home?

Gather any natural ‘scrap’ fabric you have lying around the house. The more absorbent the material the better, for example, old cotton or flannel clothes, hand towels, tea towels, or washcloths. 

Just avoid synthetic materials (like workout clothes) as they shed microplastics when washed.

Follow these straightforward steps:

  1. Cut two pieces of fabric into squares
  2. Pin the two pieces of fabric together
  3. Sew together about ¼ from the edge
  4. Leave a gap big enough to turn the material inside out
  5. Flip inside out, sew up the gap, and iron the edges

And you’re good to go!


Final thoughts

As we wrap up our reusable paper towel alternatives, it’s clear that a simple switch can have a huge impact.

If every family used 1 less roll of paper towels each year, it could save 544,000 trees each year. Since one dishcloth replaces 17 rolls of paper towels, let’s imagine every family using one. That’s 9248000 trees saved!

Of course, we can’t be responsible for everyone else’s choices, but we can be responsible for our own. Putting a dishcloth by the sink, gathering scrap fabrics, or making your own disinfectant wipes can massively reduce the impact you have on the planet and might encourage others to do the same.

We all make a mess sometimes, but it doesn’t have to harm the planet!

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.